The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Possibly inappropriate medium

Generally, I prefer to learn new things by reading first, then doing. I mentioned Wednesday that I've grown dissatisfied with my photography skills, so naturally, I'll go first to Amazon. You know: read about a technique, try it out, post the results online, rinse and repeat.

So it seems somewhat odd to me that most of Amazon's top-rated books on photography—like this one on Photoshop—have Kindle editions that cost almost as much. Because nothing will help someone understand how to do advanced photo editing than 10 cm, 18 dpi halftones, right? Even stranger: the example I just cited has a companion DVD, which I assume does not come with the Kindle version. That, to me, puts the F in WTF.

More than the camera

I'm slowly coming around to the notion that no matter how perfect the composition, digital photographs almost always benefit from some post-processing. Back when I shot hand-rolled Tri-X from bulk and printed everything myself, I routinely changed papers and printing filters, dodged, burned, cropped, and distorted, in search of the perfect print. (I have a great before-and-after example that I will post when I receive the subject's permission.) Ansel Adams, recall, did most of his work in the darkroom.

Here's a 10-minute example of digital processing. Let's start with the raw photo; only the output size has changed:

The near-sunset direct light makes Leah look radiant. The expression—this was during our dad's speech—is purely her. And the reflections off the picture behind her don't distract me too much. Why would I change this shot?

Because I think it can look even better.

Now, I really don't have much experience with digital photo alterations. And I haven't invested in Photoshop; I'm just using Microsoft's Digital Image Suite 2006, which they have discontinued. So you won't see any dramatic changes.

First, let me desaturate slightly (to 70%) and increase the contrast slightly (to 130%):

Huh. I think that's a little better. She's better defined, and the light looks more golden than red. What if I do more? Saturation 30%, contrast 150%, and reducing the shadow level by 20%:

Too much? Maybe. OK, add more color up to 50% saturation, stay at 150% contrast, shadows down only 15%, and change the color temperature from 5700K daylight to 6200K (adding some warmth back in after the desaturaion):

I'm not sure which of these looks best. I'd appreciate feedback from the blogosphere. I will probably do another version that removes her stray hairs, reduces the ghost reflections behind her, and brings out her eyes just a bit more. Maybe I'll even buy Photoshop.

Half Moon Bay, Calif., 5 June 2010, 19:40 PDT. Canon 20D, 1/200s at f/6.3, ISO 800, 200mm.

Old photos

I mentioned earlier today that I've got a new film scanner, which makes scanning negatives leaps and bounds easier than my old flatbed scanner did. As threatened promised, I've started sending people some copies. But unless someone spontaneously grants me publication permission, I'm going to restrict myself to posting only shots of subjects that have no privacy interests. Like this creek, for example:

My notes have that one at the Walters Ave. bridge in Northbrook, Ill., looking south, mid-November 1985.

Why do people think beavers and dogs work hard?

I am neither a beaver nor a dog, so I don't get to sleep through the winter nor do I get to lounge around all day and eat free food every night.

Which is all a long way of saying my blogging velocity might drop a little for the next week or so.

I've also gotten a new film scanner, and I've started scanning some of my negatives from the 1980s and 1990s. So if you went to school with me, you might get some frighteningly old photos over email in the next few weeks. I've discovered, after calibrating the scanner, that Kodak Tri-X and T-Max held up really well while Fuji FR-1600 did not. Fuji films had a reputation in the 1980s for weak magenta dyes, and after 20 or 25 years they've gotten even weaker, yielding greenish photos. The Kodak VR-100 looks pretty good.

Of course, a lot of the Tri-X that I shot from 1985 to 1992 came in 400-foot bulk packs, which I cut by hand and rolled into reusable film cans, and usually developed myself. The scanner dutifully records all the flaws, streaks, pits, and developing errors that never quite showed up on the proof sheets.

York York York!

I met one of my oldest surviving friends in York this afternoon, thanks to the fast and cheap railways they've got in the UK. It's one thing to stay in a hotel built before my home town was founded; it's quite another to walk along a wall built over a thousand years before that.

First obligatory photo: York Minster, which opened as a small wooden church in 627 CE, and achieved this form somewhere around 800 years ago:

We also took advantage of an open house hosted by the York Glaziers Trust, who work to restore the stained glass at the Minster. I snapped this before seeing the "no photographs" sign:

That's one panel of the 120 or so that make up the east wall of the Minster. John Thornton installed the windows about ten years before Columbus got lost in the Atlantic, or about 300 years before my country came into being. My friend and I both wondered if they'd ever dropped a piece of 15th-century glass, but we were both too chicken to ask the conservationists.

Getting out of York required jumping forward to the last few years, when York restored its Victorian-era railway station:

I've got one more day in the Land of Uk, so tomorrow look for some nighttime shots.

(About this post's title: for some reason I keep hearing the Swedish Chef in my head.)

Seen over Chicago

I'm really, really tired, but I just had to post this:

Did I mention how much I love my new camera?

In fairness, my old camera could have done that, too. It's a 200mm lens on a 1.6x digital image chip, ISO-100, f/5.6 at 1/500. My old camera wouldn't have had the detail the new one has, but really, the trick to the shot was the tripod I've had since 1983. (Seriously.)

The moon is actually pretty bright. Its albedo—the amount of light its surface reflects—is about 9%, or about half of an average surface on Earth. So in full sunlight it should read about 50% of the light that it would read at noon here, and, would't you know, it does. In noon sun in the park I would expect about the same exposure. So in reality, the moon is a much duller grey than this photo shows.

OK, I'm off to sleep now. Tomorrow I'll reveal what became of my car while I was in Connecticut.

New York at dusk

The low-light performance of my new camera astounds me. I took an hour-long hike around Midtown Manhattan right around sunset. Cranking the camera up to ISO-6400 allowed me to do this:

That's f/3.5 at 1/30, using available light. Sorry about the nerd moment but: day-um.

Another one, in Washington Square:

ISO-3200, f/5.6 at 1/30. Again: day-um.

To celebrate, I had a greasy slice of New York pizza from a corner pizzeria for dinner.

My new baby

Ain't she purdy?

This new Canon 7D replaces my five-year-old Canon 20D, and finally, finally, gets my digital photography back to the resolution and color fidelity of the film cameras I used from 1983 to 2000. (The shot of my car from this morning came from the new 7D.) Take a look at this snapshot of how my cameras have evolved:

In 17 years I took about 9,000 photos on film. The 20D has shot over 17,000 and I'll keep using it for several thousand more. I expect to shoot even more than that with the new 7D.

I'll put the thing through its paces over the next few weeks, including testing out its video capabilities. It shoots full 1080p HD video, which I have never experienced with an SLR before. I'm giddy.

Mama took it away after all

The last Kodachrome processing machine is gone:

In the last weeks, dozens of visitors and thousands of overnight packages have raced [to Dwayne's Photo in Parsons, Kansas], transforming this small prairie-bound city not far from the Oklahoma border for a brief time into a center of nostalgia for the days when photographs appeared not in the sterile frame of a computer screen or in a pack of flimsy prints from the local drugstore but in the warm glow of a projector pulling an image from a carousel of vivid slides.

In the end, it was determined that a roll belonging to Dwayne Steinle, the owner, would be last. It took three tries to find a camera that worked. And over the course of the week he fired off shots of his house, his family and downtown Parsons. The last frame is already planned for Thursday, a picture of all the employees standing in front of Dwayne’s wearing shirts with the epitaph: "The best slide and movie film in history is now officially retired. Kodachrome: 1935-2010."

I used the film for close to 90% of my color work from 1983 to 2000, when I took my last Kodachrome photo at Lake Sacandaga, N.Y. Red always made the most striking Kodachrome slides; I don't know if a scanner exists that can duplicate it:

Boston Public Garden, 10 May 1986

But wow, was that film hard to use. It had an exposure latitude of about 1 stop, meaning you had to hit the exposure dead on to get a usable shot. A slight underexposure bias seemed to yield richer colors, so I always set my meter down a third of a stop (to ASA 80 when using Kodachrome 64, for example). And it was slow, so slow; until Kodachrome 200 came down in price in 1986, I used 64 (or even 25) most of the time. As side effect, it forced wider apertures to use reasonable shutter speeds in anything but bright sunlight. And at about 60c per shot (including developing), it led to more considered shooting. I probably wouldn't have gotten this using a digital camera or a faster film, for example:

Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton, Burlington, Vt., 26 September 1992

I miss Kodachrome, but not enough to keep shooting with it. I just hope the dyes last for another 50 years or so, and that sometime before they fade too much I find a scanner that can capture their true colors.

Rolle, Switzerland, 17 June 1992

Missing things

The slide scanning project is almost done. I'm right now scanning the end of 1998, right around when I switched to digital cameras. Here are three from the mid-1990s showing bits of Chicago that no longer exist.

First, in this view from the Sears Tower from April 1993, you can see Meigs Field and Soldier Field, both since destroyed:

This April 1995 photo shows the view from the Michigan Avenue Bridge that now would encompass Trump Tower:

The sun, however, still rises above Lake Michigan: